School Behavior

Raise Your Hand! Lower Your Voice!

The key to changing behavior at school is understanding why it happens, and responding in a way that makes sense for children with ADHD. Use these strategies to get started.

Boys with ADHD throw paper airplanes in class
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How to Manage Bad Behavior

ADHD is not the same for every child, but it can impact behavior in similar ways. To keep kids from acting out, teachers often must figure out what triggers kids' misbehavior, and adjust the system of classroom behavior management accordingly. This is no small task, but read on for some proven methods for avoiding interruptions, improving socials skills, and bolstering self esteem in the classroom.

Two children working on managing their behavior in the classroom
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Why Bad Behavior Happens

Kids with ADHD often have difficulty organizing time and space. They can spend hours on things they enjoy, while a task they hate will make five minutes seem like an eternity. Focusing too much on a subject they like can negatively impact another. It's a disorder of performance, not skill. They know what they are supposed to do, they just don't do it. Telling a child over and over again won't help.

Two children struggling to manage their behavior in the classroom
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Acting Out in the Moment

Kids with ADHD are commonly unable to think through the consequences of their actions. They can't delay responding, and instead act impulsively without thinking. They don't know why they're misbehaving, it just happens. They are driven by what's happening in the moment. If they're enjoying something, they assume everyone is, or if a lesson has no immediate impact or consequence, it can be tough to help them think past 'now.'

A checklist on a chalkboard, part of a classroom behavior management system
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Developmental Delays and Extra Help

When disciplining children with ADHD, it's important to remember that they may be developmentally behind their peers, and may rely heavily on support from adults — in the form of prompts and reminders — to succeed. The best behavior remedies will take these developmental needs into account, establishing a structure and routine the child can complete by himself with a visual aid as a reminder instead of help from the teacher.

Teacher discussing classroom behavior management with a student
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How to Help

The first remedy is to be proactive, not reactive and to try to give positive feedback whenever possible. Most kids with ADHD receive mostly negative words from adults. It's important to change that pattern. Second, don't take bad behavior personally, or attribute it to a negative motive. They're not doing it on purpose. The structure you introduce to your classroom will help those kids with ADHD — and their neurotypical peers — behave better on their own.

Girls bullying another girl, the result of poor classroom behavior management
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Avoid Rejection Sensitivity

Many kids with ADHD are repeatedly redirected at school, and largely receive negative feedback. It's important to put a system in place that lets them receive recognition for doing well. This is best accomplished before a bad behavior happens. Help kids practice the right way to respond to a particular scenario, and then notice and compliment them when they get it right.

A young boy sitting in a classroom and struggling to manage his behavior
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Choose a Goal

With kids with ADHD, you need to be very specific about good and bad behavior. Before giving instructions, ask yourself three questions:

  1. What do I want to happen instead of the current behavior?
  2. How can I put this in a visual format so I don’t have to remind kids?
  3. What reward will make this behavior worth the effort to sustain it?

The reward can't be the same as any other reward. Kids should only receive it if they achieve the specific behavioral goal.

Young children working together in the classroom on behavior management
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Establish Rewards

At the start of each week, give each child 5-10 minutes to pick a behavior goal from a list, such as: keep your hands to yourself, get started with only one reminder, or stay where you belong. Then, make a card for the corner of the desk. When kids are doing well, initial the card. When they are doing poorly, point to the card to give a visual clue to self-correct. Use positive reinforcement, like writing the names of people who behave well on the board.

School children with ADHD raising their hands in class
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End Interruptions

Be clear about the behavior you want. Don't instruct kids to raise their hands, then punish them when they do so while simultaneously talking. Be specific. Instruct them to sit quietly and wait to be called on. Give kids with ADHD a piece of paper, and have them write their response down. Then, check it at the end of class. Even if they write down what other people said in class, they are listening more effectively, and receive acknowledgment without saying their thoughts out loud.

Children running outside the classroom to better manage their behavior in class
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Improve Social Skills

Give children the opportunity to practice socializing. Teach them to ask questions, and to pay attention to what interests other people. When kids are on the playground, designate an adult to watch and make sure that the child is practicing the behavior, asking someone to play, even if it's only for 10 minutes. For kids who get too wound up at recess, agree on a signal that means five or 10 minutes remain before winding down.

A young girl with ADHD holding a bunny as a reward for good behavior management in the classroom
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Bolster Self Esteem

For kids who receive a lot of negative feedback or feel behind their peers in class, going to school can be tough. Give them a positive reason not to dread school. Have kids come in early to water a teacher's plants, or give them a class pet to take care of. Let kids show off their strengths. Have them mentor a younger child. It will remind them they are competent and caring, and help them feel rewarded by helping a struggling child succeed.

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